Coun­cil de­fers de­ci­sion on air­port taxi fees

Fort McMurray Today - - LOCAL NEWS - LAURA BEAMISH To­day Staff lbeamish@post­media.com

In their first gen­eral meet­ing af­ter their sum­mer re­cess, coun­cil unan­i­mously de­cided to de­fer an amend­ment to the Ve­hi­cle for Hire By­law that would change the fees charged to taxi driv­ers us­ing the wait­ing cor­ral at the Fort Mcmur­ray In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

The mo­tion de­fer­ring a de­ci­sion was brought for­ward by Coun­cil­lor Mike Allen, who said he wanted the amend­ment to re­turn to coun­cil in two-months time, al­low­ing for more in­for­ma­tion to be gath­ered.

Many coun­cil­lors voiced their con­cern with pass­ing the ini­tial amend­ing mo­tion.

“We don’t have TAC com­mis­sioner here to be­gin with, we don’t have the air­port here to be­gin with and they’re prob­a­bly two of the big­gest stake­hold­ers,” said Coun­cil­lor Keith Mcgrath. “I can’t sup­port the changes sim­ply be­cause I don’t have enough in­for­ma­tion.”

Cur­rently, taxi driv­ers in the wait­ing cor­ral must pay a $3 air­port ser­vice fee. The fee is used for air­port main­te­nance, in­clud­ing snow re­moval and heated wash­room fa­cil­i­ties.

Penny Skin­ner, man­ager of Sun Taxi, said while it may not seem like much, the $3 charge is hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant bur­den on driv­ers.

Cur­rently, the group of taxi driv­ers pay the air­port ap­prox­i­mately $12,000 to $18,000 a month in fees.

“Driv­ers are strug­gling now to make ends meet,” said Skin­ner, adding that in­ter­na­tional air­ports in Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton have a sim­i­lar sur­charge for pas­sen­gers.

“We don’t know where to go or what to do any­more.”

In Jan­uary 2016, Sun Taxi owner Ron­ald Mac­neill asked coun­cil to con­sider the $3 charge be given to the per­son re­quest­ing the taxi.

Given the state of the econ­omy at the time, Mac­neill ar­gued the fee was too costly to the taxi driv­ers.

In Fe­bru­ary 2017, the Taxi Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee voted in favour of sup­port­ing the $3 fee paid by a pas­sen­ger.

They also sup­ported a $5 sur­charge if a van is re­quested in the Ur­ban Ser­vice Area and a $10 sur­charge if a van is re­quested for the Ru­ral Ser­vice Area.

An­other ini­tia­tive in­clud­ing in­creas­ing the sur­charge for ve­hi­cle clean-up be­cause of the pas­sen­ger to $200.

Coun­cil­lor Krista Bal­som agreed the ve­hi­cle clean-up fee was a good idea, but also raised con­cerns sur­round­ing the ad­di­tion of a $3 charge to the con­sumer.

Coun­cil­lor Phil Meagher also raised con­cerns about how this charge would fur­ther af­fect busi­ness at the air­port.

“This is not go­ing to win over cus­tomers. I’m not talk­ing just about taxi ser­vices, I’m talk­ing about the air­port as well, it doesn’t seem like a very good busi­ness plan to me,” he said.

Fort Mcmur­ray’s air­port author­ity has re­cently seen some trou­bles, in­clud­ing de­clin­ing traf­fic and pas­sen­ger use, lay­offs and the re­cent an­nounce­ment that Westjet would be can­celling di­rect flights be­tween Fort Mcmur­ray to Toronto.

Af­ter many coun­cil­lors said they were con­cerned the air­port and Taxi Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee were not present, coun­cil unan­i­mously de­ferred a de­ci­sion so that more in­for­ma­tion from stake­hold­ers, driv­ers and the pub­lic could be con­sid­ered.

VINCE MCDER­MOTT/FORT MCMUR­RAY TO­DAY

A cab op­er­ated by Sun Taxi is parked out­side the Ju­bilee Cen­tre and provin­cial build­ing in Fort Mcmur­ray Alta. on Satur­day Jan­uary 30, 2016.

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